2011 NBA Playoffs: Western Conference Finals Important Observations and Bold Predictions

To start off, I hope everyone has been enjoying sports in general for the last week while I took some time away from SpreeGoogs to graduate and deal with the accompanying family visitation responsibilities. In case you’ve been lost without me, I’ll make it up to you.

To express what’s been happening in the NBA playoffs so far, I’m going to break down each of the two conference finals series by giving you one Important Observation and two Bold Predictions for each team. Since the Mavs and Thunder played most recently, I’ll start with that series and then give you the Bulls/Heat post just before Game 2 later tonight.

Western Conference Finals Game 1 Important Observations:

Mavs Dirk Nowitzki is the best player left in the playoffs right now.

It doesn't matter how tall you are, how long your wingspan is or how high you can jump, it's just not possible to defend this.

Anyone who watched that game yesterday has to agree. Or anyone who watched the Mavs/Lakers series in the second round. Dirk is just unbelievable right now. And he does it all with no knee cartilage or vertical jump, it’s phenomenal.

There are points in Mavericks games when I stop watching the ball after it’s been shot and just assume. Some of that is Dirk. He’s just an offensive force that no one in the league can control right now. It would be great to see a Mavs/Bulls Finals starring Dirk and Derrick as the two best offensive players around whose games consequently have absolutely no overlap. A 2011 basketballish Odd Couple.

This Mavericks team in the playoffs has been lights out from the three-point line, and that’s no secret. The perimeter shooters (Terry, Peja, even Kidd) are dangerous, but they’re only dangerous because no one person can handle Dirk, so someone has to be open. Without Dirk, this team would pretty much be a team I’d end up on at a church pickup game. That’s entirely a compliment to Dirk, not a criticism of the rest of his teammates.

Thunder — James Harden needs to score more if this upset is going to happen.

I saw James Harden and his beard in the airport once and it was simultaneously terrifying and enlightening. But mostly terrifying. Something like 80-20.

No one is going to watch the Thunder and demand more of Kevin Durant. 40 points on 18 shots? That would be highlighted in the history books if Dirk didn’t have 48 on 15. Westbrook struggled in Game 1 a little bit, but has consistently been a reliable second scoring option for this team. The great news for the Thunder is that they have two all-star quality players on the floor most of the game. The bad news is that the Mavs’ defense just shut down two guys who were all-stars this year in their last series. I’m not trying to say that the Mavericks defense is geared to shutting down two players at a time and only two players at a time, but I am saying that the Mavs are extremely good at knowing who is going to beat them and not letting it happen.

That’s why a guy like James Harden needs to step up and relieve the studs for stretches. He’s had some I-am-the-thing-that-makes-this-team-unbeatable moments this postseason, and he’s going to need roughly 4 out of 6 games to be filled with those moments if the Thunder are going to advance to the NBA finals.

It’s bizarre to say that Durant can’t win something by himself, but if Dirk keeps it up, it’s true. Harden needs to beard up and be a little more aggressive.

Western Conference Finals Bold Predictions:

Mavs
1. Adjustments to Dirk will benefit Jason Terry the most. Jet will score 30 in at least one game of this series.
2. Jason Kidd’s 3 rebound total in Game 1 will be at least double (6+) in every other WCF game.

Thunder
1. Harden will score 20 in Game 2.
2. Kendrick Perkins will foul out of at least 2 of the remaining games.

*Tangential thought about the NBA based on this game and other examples of shocking free throw totals in this year’s postseason:
Dirk shot 24 free throws, Durant shot 19, Westbrook 18, no one else shot more than 4. To think that these numbers are happening because some players are simply that much better at getting to the line than others is borderline statistically impossible. A differential that big isn’t proof, of any sort of foul play or anything, but if you don’t think that the superstars are getting even more superstar treatment in the playoffs by now, then you’re not watching the games.

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